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Mainstream media attacks Sydney Festival boycott

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Celebrities took to social media to boycott the Sydney Festival, causing a divide among opinions (Image by Dan Jensen)

The corporate media has slammed the boycott of the Sydney Festival describing the move as anti-Semitic, writes Dechlan Brennan.

THE CULTURE WARS in Australia have always focused on ostracising the colonised people throughout the world, whether it be at home with Indigenous Australians or First Nations people overseas.

So, when it comes to issues around the policies of the Israeli Government towards Palestinian people, it should come as no surprise that more often than not, Australia chooses the side of the aggressor.

Criticism of Israel's policies often results in people being denounced as anti-Semitic — though this criticism of the Israeli Government may not have a correlation with the insidious attacks on the Jewish faith.

This is illustrated by the recent mass artist boycott – orchestrated by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) – of the Sydney Festival and the response towards the artists from many in the corporate media.

The Sydney Festival and the Israeli Government

The Sydney Festival is an arts event that should be the resurrection of an industry that has been appallingly treated by the Morrison Government during the recent pandemic. The decisions by the board have sadly rendered this impossible.

In May, the festival agreed to accept $20,000 from the Israeli Government, platforming them as a star sponsor in the process. The Middle-Eastern nation has attempted in recent times to whitewash its settler-colonial image through a raft of art sponsorships, trying to obfuscate from Human Rights Watch noting that Israel operates a regime of persecution.

For many, the disappointment is that a festival originating from a progressive stance can be so easily bought by a government that shuts down Palestinian cultural events and centres. The board's insistence on keeping the money and ignoring pleas for it to be returned has sparked a split in the community. For Australian corporate media, however, the reason for this boycott is simple: anti-Semitism.

Appearing on the right-wing echo chamber that is Sky News, Australian Jewish Association’s President David Adler described the BDS move as “anti-Semitic”.

He continued this attack telling host Cory Bernardi that despite describing himself as an advocate of free speech:

“It’s a disgrace, it’s contrary to those that support human rights and frankly, I think we need laws in this country to deal with it more firmly.”

In Spectator Australia, David Schulberg attempted a similar false and damning line of attack.

After besmirching various academics who side with Palestine – often without actually contacting them directly for a response – he once again showed the hypocrisy of the right-wing, pro-small government crowd by imploring those in power to act against peaceful protests:

‘May I suggest that they have the option of organising their own alternative Jew-free arts festival. Perhaps it is time for our governments to be seriously considering anti-BDS legislation.’ 

Jennine Khalik – a Palestinian Australian who was 21 at the time she worked as a reporter for The Australian – was once targeted by Israeli diplomats, who were concerned about her pro-Palestinian position in various stories. At one point, a sub-editor at the paper berated her in front of her colleagues for daring to use the term “Palestine” in an article.

Khalik no longer works for the paper and has used her social media following and voice to raise awareness over the boycott.

Speaking on The Project, Khalik summed up the hypocrisy of people who have attacked the boycott:

“If Palestinians respond to armed military occupation with armed resistance, they’re denounced as terrorists... and so BDS is also this other way. Yet still, Palestinians are being told that it is unacceptable and anything we are going to do is going to be met with backlash.”

Khalik told me:

“We all belong to the international community, artists included. Palestine is a litmus test for progressives today and in a few years’ time, many will look back with embarrassment and shame at how flippant and dismissive they were in the face of these calls for solidarity.”

Correlating the Israeli Government with anti-Semitism

Investigative journalist John Lyons recently released a book on the powerful Israel lobby: Dateline Jerusalem. The work’s premise centres on various pro-Israeli groups exerting undue pressure on editors to push only one side of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Any mention of Palestine as “victims” or Israel as “aggressors” is met with belligerent condemnation.

In The Guardian, Louise Adler surmised this as:

‘Both implicitly and explicitly it is agreed that subjects best avoided are: daily life for Palestinians, the relentless growth of settlements in the occupied territories, the concomitant moral erosion of the Israeli polity and the complexities at play within Palestinian and Israeli politics.’

This is both disheartening and egregious. B’Tselem, a leading human-rights group out of Israel, has documented human rights abuse by the Israeli Government since 1989, including claims of Apartheid policies. Israeli media organisation Haaretz has stated the same — despite a recent change in political leadership.

International group Human Rights Watch has made similar statements, whilst Amnesty International has reported heavily on war crimes committed by both Israelis and armed insurgence in Gaza. None of this should be controversial to report, but the powerful lobby has helped to make any discussion around these crimes taboo — nearly always invoking claims of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism.

They will not be silenced

All of this is helps build Khalik’s case for the boycott. Failure to censure the government of Israel, out of a huge fear of a lobby that is backed by a corporate media filled with people willing to attack the BDS as anti-Semites, only helps to embolden the continued whitewashing of their human rights failures.

In response to claims by pro-Israel and Zionist groups that she is supporting terrorists, Khalik is incandescent:


“By supporting apartheid Israel, it's actually you and others openly defending terrorism. Palestinians are under military occupation. Palestinians live under siege…you don’t want peace, you want submission.”

As for the boycott, which has seen more than 20 acts recently pull out, Khalik sums it up neatly:

“It has been a huge, collective effort.”

Sadly, for many in Australia who protest, you will likely be criticised by those in positions of power — the media included.

Dechlan Brennan is a freelance writer advocating for mental health and welfare reforms in Australia.

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